For the last few months I’ve been trying to take an “Internet Sabbath” on Sundays at home. And I have to say that I’ve had varying degrees of success. For example, one Sunday I felt incredibly anxious about not being able to check in with my various social media networks. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing something: a good conversation on Twitter, some news from Facebook friends about how their weekends were going, updates from Google+ about who was adding me to one of their circles…things that I would normally do without a second thought on a regular weekday or Saturday. But I resisted the temptation to hop online, even for a few minutes, to see what was up. And you know what? I survived. I was able to check in once my Sabbath was over (I usually try to go from, say, 12:01 a.m. on Sunday morning to 12:01 on Monday morning). The online world had carried on nicely without me, and I was able to once again step into the digital stream renewed and refreshed—which is pretty much what I understand Sabbath time is all about.
This kind of Sabbath might be a little more complicated than a traditional Sabbath (“In Sabbath time,” Wayne Muller tells us, “we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred; we light candles, sing songs, tell stories, eat, nap, and make love”). An Internet Sabbath calls into question one’s entire relationship with media and web technology, and the reasons for taking one need to be clear. Here’s what Elizabeth Drescher says about unplugging from the internet in Tweet If You ♥ Jesus:
Efforts to “unplug” are laudable when they invite us to reflect on the transformation in which we are currently participating so that we can make better choices about how we live our lives in the context of our most important relationships and most deeply held beliefs. But they are misguided when they contribute to the illusion that the effects of digital culture on our daily lives, including our religious and spiritual practice, are something from which we can truly opt out, even temporarily.
I do find that for me Internet Sabbaths are a time of reflection. These Sabbaths give me the opportunity to pause quietly for a moment and think about my relationships, with family, friends (both those with whom I have face-to-face relationships and those with whom our interactions are primarily virtual), and the wider world. And these Sabbaths have become a chance to re-engage with some forgotten pleasures from days gone by: looking through the Sunday New York Times, listening to classical music on Minnesota Public Radio, actually reading a book (not on my iPad, but an real live book). All in all, I’d have to say that the benefits of these Sabbaths outweigh any sort of detriments regarding my online presence. Of course, if I wake up some Monday morning and find that my Klout score has dropped significantly, I may have to re-examine the whole undertaking. But until then, I’m content to spend my Sundays unplugged.
For more information on Internet Sabbaths, check out the National Day of Unplugging website and “Author Disconnects From Communication Devices to Reconnect With Life” about William Powers, author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry.
N.B. I wrote this post more than a week ago as a fifteen minute free writing exercise. Since then, I’ve shared the following article on Twitter: “People deprived of the internet feel ‘upset and lonely’ and find going offline as hard as quitting smoking or drinking,” which drew a response from my friend and colleague the Rev. Naomi King, (@revnaomi on Twitter). Naomi asked:
Long story short, Naomi and I have agree to have a dialogue about this on our blogs. Since I already had this post ready to go, I thought I’d start with it. Future posts will address specific questions, like “What’s your spiritual practice re: turning off the media feed? Why?” and “How do you reflect on your relationships? How does that include social media supported relationships?” I’m looking forward to the exchange.